Mosgiel not bigoted, board chairman says

"In some respects, Mosgiel is a bit of an easy target for being regarded as an older,...
"In some respects, Mosgiel is a bit of an easy target for being regarded as an older, conservative, narrow-minded population . . . I don’t think we deserve that" — Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairman Andrew Simms. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON/FILE
A Mosgiel community leader has defended the suburb against claims of homophobia and says its residents are an "easy target" for stereotyping as old and conservative.

Last week the Otago Daily Times published an opinion piece by a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who said homophobia was "prevalent" in Dunedin.

The anonymous writer singled out Mosgiel, saying they often felt "like a creature from an alien planet" due to people staring at them when they visited the suburb.

The piece was written after the author said they had reflected on an incident last month, where a 4-year-old boy was subjected to homophobic abuse by a people in a ute for waving a rainbow flag in Dunedin’s city centre.

Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairman Andrew Simms said it was "incredibly disappointing" that Mosgiel was singled out and he did not believe it was reflective of the entire community.

There were "openly gay people" living in Mosgiel who were a welcomed and vibrant part of the community, he said.

"As with any community there is intolerance and that is always bloody disappointing."

Mr Simms said he did not think Mosgiel was a suburb of "ultra-conservative bigots" at all and the population was much more diverse than it had been 20 years ago.

"In some respects, Mosgiel is a bit of an easy target for being regarded as an older, conservative, narrow-minded population.

"I don’t think we deserve that.

"It can sometimes be a stereotype, if you like, in itself ..."

The author of the piece alleged they were attacked in a restaurant for their appearance and said Dunedin had a "generally hostile attitude towards queer people".

It was also "very scary" to be visibly queer in the Octagon during the evening at weekends.

"Truthfully, it feels like there’s no support for our community from the police or the council," they said.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said he regarded Dunedin as a "tolerant, inclusive and welcoming place for everyone".

"The vast majority of people I meet every day live up to these ideals, but the experiences described to the ODT tell me we still have a way to go."

Mr Radich said the new multi-agency Inner-City Safety Advisory Group would look at central city behaviour more broadly to make sure the city was safe for everyone and would include hearing from members of Dunedin’s LGBTQIA+ community.

Otago Coastal Area Commander Inspector Matenga Gray said police appreciated and understood the distress that hate-motivated incidents and crime could have on communities.

Police took seriously any claims and reports of violence or hate speech and investigated any incidents or alleged acts accordingly, Insp Gray said.

Elliot Weir — a member of Dunedin’s LGBTQIA+ community, an Otago regional councillor and Dunedin Pride treasurer — said homophobia and all kinds of related bigotry were "definitely prevalent" in Dunedin.

"I think the hate we see is a minority, but the rhetoric is so loud and poisonous that it can become all we see," they said.

Cr Weir said they had heard from students and teachers around Dunedin they were seeing "really troubling issues" around queerphobia at schools.

Dunedin Pride had also needed extra security in recent years due to threats and disruptions, they said.

However, the local drag scene was "absolutely flourishing" and the most recent Pride Month had been the biggest yet.

Dunedin Pride chairperson Mason Potiki-Grayling said the person’s account rang true to the stories they had heard from members of the community in the city.

"It breaks my heart to hear people saying they can't safely be out and proud."

The Octagon could be an intimidating place for anyone on a Saturday night, but could be scary for people who were visibly queer to be surrounded by intoxicated people whose beliefs were not known to them, they said.